Tag Archives: railgun

Dynamite at the Speed of Light: How Directed Energy Can Transform the U.S. Navy

By Tim McGeehan and Douglas Wahl


On December 7, 1941, shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Admiral Stark issued the directive “Execute Against Japan Unrestricted Air and Submarine Warfare.”  This was the opening phase of America’s strategy to engage Japan in a long war of attrition. Japan, on the other hand, had hoped for a short and limited war that would be concluded before America could fully mobilize. The American population, economy, and industrial base were asymmetric advantages that the Japanese could not hope to counter in the long run. Simply put, we could replace combat losses of people and platforms while they could not.

Now, our potential adversaries favor Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) strategies that seek to keep our military at arm’s length and limit our power projection. Underlying this strategy is the familiar concept of attrition. To fight the “away game” our military will have to successfully penetrate multi-layered defenses extending well offshore and survive continuous engagement to carry the fight to our adversaries’ homeland. The recent proliferation of technology including long-range sensors, anti-ship ballistic and cruise missiles, and electronic warfare capabilities that aim to disrupt our command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C4ISR) are making their A2/AD strategies increasingly viable.

While our Navy is accustomed to fighting the “away game,” attrition is a strategy we can ill afford today. Unlike World War II, with the 24-hour news cycle and the speed of information via the Internet, the United States can no longer politically accept a war with heavy losses of personnel or platforms. We no longer possess the production facilities to rapidly replace extensive combat losses of materiel that we could in World War II. Though we are the world’s largest Navy, our number of capital ships is limited and future investments to numerically grow the Fleet must be weighed against the need for development of advanced capabilities. If we are going to successfully engage adversaries relying on A2/AD strategies, our Navy needs bold and innovative solutions that can successfully counter their attrition focus.

The Salvo Competition

Sun Tzu reminds us that it is most important to attack the enemy’s strategy and we need to do just that. A key aspect our adversaries rely on to achieve the desired attrition is winning the “salvo competition.” As we approach their coasts, our adversaries believe they can overwhelm our ships based on the sheer number of long-range anti-ship and ballistic missiles they can deliver versus the more limited number we can defend against based on our current magazine depth. Our surface ships have advanced “hard kill” point defenses such as the Standard Missile (SM-2), Close-in-Weapon System (CIWS), Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile (ESSM), Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM), and SeaRAM. No matter how effective these systems are, they may run out of missiles and ordnance long before our adversary does, opening the door to unsustainable losses. To help increase survivability, the Navy is upgrading our softkill systems such as AN/SLQ-32 as part of the Surface Electronic Warfare Improvement Program (SEWIP).1 However, as the sophistication of adversary weapons continuously increases, the continued ability of these systems to adapt is uncertain.

We need to turn the tables on attrition by changing the asymmetric balance of the salvo competition between A2/AD assets and power-projecting naval forces. However, we cannot continue to rely on incremental advances by linearly extrapolating our capabilities; instead we must take advantage of highly non-linear opportunities provided by leveraging emerging technology. In 2015, former CNO Admiral Greenert challenged the Science and Technology community to “get us off gunpowder.”The Navy needs to rise to this challenge and accelerate the investment, development, and fielding of directed energy weapons across the Fleet.3

Technologies and Advantages

Directed energy weapons offer many advantages to help us defeat an A2/AD strategy, increasing lethality and survivability while decreasing cost and logistical burdens. With a range exceeding 100 nautical miles, the Electromagnetic Rail Gun (EMRG) can execute multiple missions at significantly greater range than today’s “conventional” gun systems, including anti-surface, naval surface fire support (NSFS), air defense, and ballistic missile defense.4 Additionally, although the existing Tomahawk Land Attack Missile (TLAM) and strike aircraft have strike ranges greater than the EMRG, many targets will be well within the EMRG’s range which would allow us to husband those more limited and expensive strike resources. Additionally, the EMRG round’s small size, high speed, and kinetic energy make it extremely hard to intercept or defend against. Technical progress continues, working toward the future fielding of EMRG at sea.5

The solid-state 30 kilowatt (kW) Laser Weapons System (LaWS), on the other hand, was already operationally deployed on the USS Ponce in the U.S. Central Command AOR in 2014.6 It demonstrated the ability to disable an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), disable a small boat engine, and detonate ammunition.Follow-on Navy efforts continue: at the 2017 Surface Navy Association (SNA) symposium, Rear Admiral Boxall, Director of Surface Warfare, announced plans to test fire a 150 kW weapon from a ship in the near future, and at the 2018 SNA symposium it was announced that USS Portland will soon host a new laser system in another technology demonstration.8 Likewise, efforts are underway with the Navy’s High Energy Laser with Integrated Optical-Dazzler and Surveillance (HELIOS) project (60kW with potential growth to 150kW) as well as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) High Energy Liquid Laser Area Defense System (HELLADS) project (in the 150 kW range), which may present future opportunities for demonstration at sea.9

LaWS test (U.S. Navy video)

High-powered microwave weapons are another category of directed energy weapons that could be soon employed at sea. High power microwaves can be used for electronic attack to destroy or disrupt specific components of adversary communication and sensor systems or even be applied to counter- improvised explosive device (IED) operations.10 In 2012, the Air Force Research Lab successfully demonstrated the Counter-electronics High-power microwave Advanced Missile Project (CHAMP) that developed an air-launched cruise missile outfitted with a high-power microwave payload.11

Collectively, these directed energy weapons will allow us to counter A2/AD by winning the salvo competition. The small size of EMRG rounds also translates into a vastly expanded magazine when compared to the limited number of Vertical Launch System (VLS) cells of our current surface combatants. LaWS and high-powered microwave weapons go even further, offering a virtually bottomless magazine, limited only by power generation. These new weapons also shift the cost curve in our favor. For short-range strike missions, a TLAM costs between $1.1 and 1.4 million12 per missile and an F/A-18E/F Super Hornet flying over the beach costs $80+ million,13 not including the cost to recruit, train, and maintain the pilot. On the defensive side, existing Naval surface-to-air missiles vary in cost from about $900,000 for a RAM to over $20 million for an SM-3 Block IIA for ballistic missile defense.14 In contrast, an EMRG round costs $25,000 and LaWS costs $1 per shot, making them extremely cost effective alternatives.15 The combination of decreased physical size and lower cost will also enable our surface Fleet to counter the missile, UAV, and small boat swarms of A2/AD without being overwhelmed. 

Another aspect of countering the A2/AD attrition calculus is increasing survivability. In today’s environment almost any hit to a ship is a mission kill, which places a premium on not getting hit in the first place. The increased range of EMRG allows for increased standoff distance during littoral strike or naval surface fire support missions in support of forces ashore. LaWS could engage incoming missiles at a greater range than existing CIWS systems, which have such short range that shrapnel from a destroyed anti-ship missile could still have enough kinetic energy to damage a ship and provide a mission kill. The EMRG could even be armed with a “point defense” projectile that deploys submunitions of flechette, airburst, or grapeshot against incoming threats. The increased power systems required for EMRG could also enable more powerful electronic warfare capabilities that in turn could defeat incoming missiles. However, the shift to directed energy weapons will have the greatest boost to surface ship survivability because they lack what is traditionally the most vulnerable part of the ship – the explosives in its magazine. Storing explosive rounds and propellants onboard also necessitates additional damage control systems and armor, which could be reduced, allowing tradeoffs in the constant naval architecture balance of size and weight.

Directed energy weapons also have a second order benefit in countering A2/AD by decreasing our logistics burden. Our surface Fleet is constrained and restrained by logistics – specifically our supply ships that are an often overlooked critical vulnerability. While our forward deployed Fleet relies almost exclusively on them for the resupply of food, parts, and fuel, there are very few of these ships in the inventory. On top of their limited availability, logistic ships have limited defenses and in a hostile environment will require an armed escort, which will in turn detract from forces available for the fight. Moreover, they have to cover long distances to and from logistics hubs. With directed energy weapons, our Fleet could have deeper magazines and still trade some space to carry more fuel, parts, and stores. This would reduce the Fleet’s dependence on combat replenishment, both limiting the exposure of and the burden on these scarce, vulnerable assets. Furthermore, replenishment of EMRG magazines could occur at sea and on station. Reloading of VLS cells, on the other hand, currently must be done pier-side in port, in a protected anchorage, or in optimal conditions at sea.16 Depending on the availability of these areas and their proximity to the front, combatants may incur a significant loss of time on station while transiting to and from them.

The logistical benefits of directed energy weapons may extend beyond the A2/AD environment. In future conflicts we may have to begin the fight closer to home – against enemy submarines and forward deployed long-range aircraft. Fighting our way across the ocean will entail long transits before we even get in position to fight the “away game” in our adversary’s waters. Reducing the frequency of required resupply operations will reduce the exposure and vulnerability of our limited logistics force.

Questions, Barriers, and Integration

There are additional force structure, strategic laydown, and force employment questions to consider with the adoption of directed energy weapons. How will the integration of weapons like EMRG and LaWS and their assumption of air defense and short-range strike missions impact the future requirements and composition of the Air Wing and the Strike Group? In the future, with drastically deeper magazines, one ship will have the capacity of several existing ships. Since the number of ships on station is often related to the aggregate number and type of missiles in their VLS cells, will there be a decreased requirement for the number of ships and submarines to be in theater or on station? It is true that a ship can only be in one place at a time, but with the longer range each EMRG ship could impact a greater area.

EMRG test (U.S. Navy video via AiirSource)

Could the aircraft carrier reach a point where it won’t require a “shotgun” and strike group escorts can be detached for independent operations? Could an EMRG equipped DDG-1000 holding the bulk of the theater’s projectile and missile magazines act as an “arsenal ship” that challenges the aircraft carrier as the new premier capital ship? How will directed energy weapons impact manpower? Will the technicians who maintain and operate directed energy systems and their power supplies be lured away by a private industry focusing on the next generation of battery and energy storage technology – similar to the way the defense contractor UAV market has recruited UAV pilots out of the Air Force? Will EMRG find uses beyond weapons delivery? The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has considered building a massive EMRG to launch objects into space.17 Could a Navy EMRG someday be used to inject nanosatellites into low-earth orbit and rapidly reconstitute or augment a constellation in response to adversary attacks on our space-based systems? 

With a reduced footprint and fewer electrical requirements, LaWS (or its successor) can be deployed on a wider variety of platforms. However, USS Ponce’s laser was powered by a diesel engine independent of the ship’s power system. Likewise, during a test onboard USS Dewey (DDG-105), LaWS was powered by an independent, commercial generator system and not integrated into the ship’s power grid.18 Fielding EMRG on a vessel will require it to be able to accommodate the equipment for energy generation and storage, pulse forming, and cooling. Even with expected achievements in increased battery storage and power production, the EMRG will likely have to be installed on larger platforms such as the DDG-1000 to be feasible. But given there will be just three Zumwalt destroyers, the Navy will only be able to reap the benefits of directed energy with the next generation of surface combatants (absent a technological revolution that would enable it to be fielded on today’s combatants) and therefore directed energy must play a key role in setting the requirements for these ships.  The Navy requires additional enablers to realize and take advantage of directed energy weapons and harness the technological advances in battery technology from firms like Tesla as they move from powering cars to powering homes and building smart electrical grids.

There are risks associated with fielding directed energy weapons. As electronics-intensive systems, will they require significant modification of their components to shield against electromagnetic pulse (EMP) and microwave weapons? Likewise, the environmental impact of environments featuring extensive dust, sand, precipitation, and clouds for weapons like LaWS are unclear. Will LaWS be a ‘fair weather’ weapon and require redundant foul-weather backup capability such as the CIWS? Finally, there are damage control concerns with the extensive battery systems. Can a ship’s crew repair battle damage at sea, swap out modular battery components, or fight hurt?  

The issues extend beyond the technical barriers. Alfred Thayer Mahan wrote “an improvement of weapons is due to the energy of one or two men, while changes in tactics have to overcome the inertia of a conservative class.”19  Experimentation like the demonstrations of LaWS on the USS Ponce are important, but integrating new capabilities into major exercises and wargames will be required to prove new capabilities, develop tactics, techniques, and procedures, and overcome skepticism from those who are heavily invested in outdated systems and concepts.


The U.S. Navy must continue to leverage emerging technology to counter adversary A2/AD strategies. Directed energy weapons offer a means of denying attrition by winning the salvo competition and increasing survivability. We are on the verge of realizing the full potential of these game-changing technologies. Fielding them across the Fleet will have implications that span most aspects of the Navy, from force structure to strategic laydown, and from missions to personnel. Any change in weapons or tactics involves risk but we must not shy away from it if we are to remain ahead. In the words of President Eisenhower from his First Inaugural Address “We must be ready to dare all for our country. For history does not long entrust the care of freedom to the weak or the timid.”20

Tim McGeehan is a U.S. Navy Officer currently serving in Washington.

Douglas T. Wahl is a Systems Engineer at Science Applications International Corporation.

 The ideas presented are those of the authors alone and do not reflect the views of the Department of the Navy, Department of Defense, or Science Applications International Corporation. 

This article is an adaptation from an essay that was awarded Second Place in the 2016 U.S. Naval Institute’s 2016 Emerging & Disruptive Technologies Essay Contest which was sponsored by Leidos.


[1] http://www.navy.mil/navydata/fact_display.asp?cid=2100&tid=475&ct=2

[2] David Smalley, CNO: Here’s What We Need for the Future Force, Navy News Service, February 5, 2015, http://www.navy.mil/submit/display.asp?story_id=85464

[3] Note that for the purposes of this report “directed energy weapons” includes electromagnetic railgun

[4] Office of Naval Research Fact Sheet, Electromagnetic Railgun, http://www.onr.navy.mil/Media-Center/Fact-Sheets/Electromagnetic-Railgun.aspx

[5] Sydney Freedberg, Navy Railgun Ramps up in Test Shots, Breaking Defense, May 19, 2017, https://breakingdefense.com/2017/05/navy-railgun-ramps-up-in-test-shots/

[6] David Smalley, Historic Leap: Navy Shipboard Laser Operates in the Arabian Gulf, Navy News, December 10, 2014, http://www.navy.mil/submit/display.asp?story_id=84805

[7] Sam LaGrone, U.S. Navy Allowed to Use Persian Gulf Laser for Defense, USNI, December 11, 2014, http://news.usni.org/2014/12/10/u-s-navy-allowed-use-persian-gulf-laser-defense

[8] Maike Fabey and Kris Osborn, The U.S. Navy is Moving at Warp Speed to Develop Super Lasers, The National Interest, January 24, 2017, http://nationalinterest.org/blog/the-buzz/the-us-navy-moving-warp-speed-develop-super-lasers-19165 ; Megan Eckstein, LPD Portland Will Host ONR Laser Weapon Demonstrator, Serve as RIMPAC 2018 Flagship, USNI News, January 10, 2018, https://news.usni.org/2018/01/10/lpd-portland-selected-host-onr-laser-weapon-demonstrator-serve-rimpac-2018-flagship

[9] John Wallace, General Atomics to build a second 150 kW HELLADS military laser, this one for the U.S. Navy, January 29, 2013, Laser Focus World,  http://www.laserfocusworld.com/articles/2013/01/general-atomics-to-build-a-second-150-kw-hellads-military-laser-.html ; DARPA, Notice of Intent to Award Sole Source Contract For High Energy Liquid Laser Area Defense System (HELLADS) Laser, FebBizOps, January 17, 2013, https://www.fbo.gov/index?s=opportunity&mode=form&id=f05c2a61208344f5e3586e17b60127d3&tab=core&_cview=0 ; DARPA Press Release, HELLADS Laser Achieves Acceptance For Field Testing, May 21, 2015, http://www.darpa.mil/news-events/2015-05-21-2 ; Ronald O’Rourke, Navy Lasers, Railgun, and Hypervelocity Projectile: Background and Issues for Congress, December 8, 2017, Congressional Research Service, https://fas.org/sgp/crs/weapons/R44175.pdf

[10] Richard Carlin, DoD Energy and Power Roadmap (brief to Energy & Power Community of Interest), March 25, 2015, http://www.defenseinnovationmarketplace.mil/resources/EP_COI_NDIA_BriefingDistA20150325.pdf

[11] CSBA, Directed Energy Summit-Summary Report, July 28, 2015, 2015 Directed Energy Summit – Summary Report – Center … ; Boeing Press Release, Boeing CHAMP Missile Completes 1st Flight Test, September 22, 2011, http://boeing.mediaroom.com/2011-09-22-Boeing-CHAMP-Missile-Completes-1st-Flight-Test ; Boeing, CHAMP – Lights Out, October 22, 2012, http://www.boeing.com/features/2012/10/bds-champ-10-22-12.page ; George I. Seffers, CHAMP Prepares For Future Fights, February 1, 2016, http://www.afcea.org/content/?q=Article-champ-prepares-future-fights; Bud Cordova, AFRL division chief presents abilities of high-powered microwave weapons, September 16, 2016, http://www.wpafb.af.mil/News/Article-Display/Article/948603/afrl-division-chief-presents-abilities-of-high-powered-microwave-weapons

[12] Federation of American Scientists, BGM-109 Tomahawk, http://fas.org/man/dod-101/sys/smart/bgm-109.htm

[13] F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, Aeroweb, http://www.bga-aeroweb.com/Defense/F-18-Super-Hornet.html

[14] Ron O’Rourke, Navy Lasers, Railgun, and Hypervelocity Projectile: Background and Issues for Congress, Congressional Research Service, November 6, 2015, https://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/weapons/R44175.pdf, p. 3

[15] Ron O’Rourke, Navy Lasers, Railgun, and Hypervelocity Projectile: Background and Issues for Congress, Congressional Research Service, November 6, 2015, https://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/weapons/R44175.pdf, p. 4

[16] Hunter Stires, CNO Announces the Return of Vertical Launch System At-Sea Reloading, The National Interest, July 5, 2017, http://nationalinterest.org/feature/exclusive-cno-announces-the-return-vertical-launch-system-21425 

[17] Rena Marie Pacella, NASA Engineers Propose Combining a Rail Gun and a Scramjet to Fire Spacecraft Into Orbit, Popular Science, December 17, 2010, http://www.popsci.com/technology/article/2010-11/nasa-engineers-propose-combining-rail-gun-and-scramjet-fire-spacecraft-orbit

[18] Spencer Ackerman, Watch the Navy’s New Ship-Mounted Laser Cannon Kill a Drone, April 8, 2013, http://www.wired.com/2013/04/laser-warfare-system/

[19] Alfred T. Mahan, The Influence of Sea Power Upon History 1660-1783, page 7

[20] Dwight Eisenhower, Inaugural Address, January 20, 1953, PBS:  American Experience, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/primary-resources/eisenhower-inaugural53/

Featured Image: The U.S. Navy Afloat Forward Staging Base (Interim) USS Ponce (AFSB(I)-15) conducts an operational demonstration of the Office of Naval Research (ONR)-sponsored Laser Weapon System (LaWS) while deployed to the Arabian Gulf. (U.S. Navy photo by John F. Williams)

Emissions Control

Fiction Topic Week

By Jeffrey B. Hunter

Bells rang through the passageways and selected berthing spaces of the Navy’s newest, first-in-class destroyer, the USS JOHN POINDEXTER, as the smooth and melodic voice of one Seaman Halsey roused the morning watch from their beds with his traditional greeting.

“Rise and shine, shipmates! It’s another fine Navy day, so let’s show’em what we’re made of.”

A series of groans reverberated through the darkened hollows of berthing two as Halsey incrementally increased the lighting to each bunk. Jonas blinked in the slowly retreating darkness with a reluctant sigh. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d had the luxury of not choosing between taking off his coveralls and sleeping over four hours.

 “Screw you, Halsey,” shouted one of the other disgruntled residents, stumbling out of his rack and stretching his tall, emaciated frame as much as the cramped space would allow.

“Neg, leave it alone,” Jonas replied, rubbing his eyes and rolling out of his rack. Normally as berthing supervisor, Jonas would try to be more patient with his bunkmates, but he just wasn’t in the mood.

“You know he can hear you, and what happens if you piss him off. Just get your stuff and…oh, Jesus…put some fricking boxers on, you tool. No one wants to see that.”

 “First,” Ng said, scratching his temple with a long, skeletal middle finger, “it’s Ng, jack ass, as in ‘swing’, ‘fling’, ‘spring.’”

“That’s Petty Officer Jackass to you,” Jonas shot back, quickly accompanied by a series of cat calls reminding him that he’d never actually left elementary school.

 “Second,” Ng continued undaunted, propping a hairless chicken leg as high on the ladder next to his bunk as possible, “everyone wants to see this. How could they not?”

“Because they have eyes, you CHICOM,” piped up Pulaski from a couple bunks down. Jonas groaned; this was going to be long morning if they were already getting into the ethnic jokes.

“CHICOM?! I’m not Chinese, you ignorant fascist. What are you, eighty?” Ng shot back, now assuming his best superhero pose. “Besides, you can’t even see me.”

“Ng, you’re six-two and weigh a buck five,” Pulaski replied, popping his shaved head out from his bunk with a wry smile, “you look like Lurch on a juice-fast.”

 “Lurch? Really? God you’re old,” Taylor cackled as he passed only to be rewarded by a thump on the shoulder from the amateur boxer.

“It’s okay, Taylor,” a voice Jonas thought was Moore said from the back of the berthing, “I don’t think that have Netflix in Poland. Not ever since ‘ze Germans…”

A chorus of the “’ze Germans” began to make the rounds through the space, Pulaski egging on the cheers like a football player pumping up the crowd after retrieving his glasses from under his bunk.

There was a time when Jonas might have been horrified by the relative insensitivity of poking fun at the great grandchild of holocaust survivors, but…the Navy had really beaten that out of him by this point.

Nothing was sacred in the berthing unless someone raised a stink and Pulaski was one of the more even keeled members of berthing two. In his own way, he seemed to own his family tragedy with a strange sense of pride and could probably turn anyone who crossed the line into a fine paste. Jonas would just step in and fix things before that happened.

While a fight or two might break out on other ships, no one was stupid enough to try it on the POINDEXTER. On other ships, issues could be solved by berthing supervisors, the Chief’s mess, and maybe even the Junior Officers before things got out of hand and people’s careers got snuffed. Here, Seaman Halsey would screw all of them before anyone could intervene and everyone knew it.

“If by Lurch, you mean an Adonis…” Ng continued, doing his best Usain Bolt victory pose.

“I don’t.”

“…and by a juice-fast, you mean bathed in mana and sunlight…”

“No, not really,” Pulaski replied matter-of-factly.

“…then you would be close,” Ng continued, undeterred. “But you see, my bespectacled friend…”

“Guys, seriously,” Jonas interrupted sharply, pulling the laces on his work boots to the point where his fingers turned white, “we don’t have time for this. They moved quarters up to ’15 for the broadcast from Third Fleet. So shave, shower, and shove off. ”

“Fifteen,” Ng spat, pulling a towel out from his bunk with the closest thing to urgency he could muster, “are you kidding me? When’d they put that out?”

“During mids last night,” Jonas replied, grabbing a razor and ducking into the head, “check your POST.”

The razor grated against Jonas’s skin, each bristle burning as though it were being individually excised and leaving the occasional red streak on his otherwise sun-starved skin. He hated dry shaving, but they just didn’t have the time.

Halsey hadn’t adjusted for the change in shift times, Jonas just knew it. Chief didn’t like submitting anything to Halsey which meant that everyone essentially had two schedules: Chief’s and Halsey’s. Both schedules had to be adhered to and rarely would match each other. Jonas had somehow managed to keep his section on track until now. He’d been too stupid to set an early alarm for everyone and now it was finally going to bite them.

At least Jonas had checked his POST before racking out. The Navy’s Personal Operating System Terminal, or POST, was one of the newest innovations big Navy had come up with for the POINDEXTER. It was essentially a smartphone, although the gents from the blue tile area got testy whenever you called it that. They’d tell you it was a vital link in the communication chain between the work centers, leadership, and Halsey. In reality, the POST was just one more way for the Navy to keep its thumb on you every hour of every day.

 “Man, this bull shi…”Ng started, but Jonas didn’t let him finish.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, whatever man. You can let Chief know after quarters. I’m sure he’ll get right on it.”

The stench of oil-soaked dust and sweat filled the Combat Information Center as all of the POINDEXTER’s forty sailors crammed into the container sized space. Normally, they’d hold quarters on the helo-deck, but the admiral apparently wanted to address the whole crew before she arrived and the CIC was the only room equipped for the job.

That meant that instead of the crew getting their only bit of sunshine for the day, everyone was now tripping over each other trying to stay in some semblance of a formation amidst the CIC’s chairs and workstations.

Meanwhile, Chief Graven was trying not to step on the contractors setting up the teleconference while simultaneously delivering one of his usual morning speeches. The guys called it Ravin’ with Graven and was about as close to a comedy skit as any of them were going to get underway.

“Jesus Christ,” he’d always start; his thick Bangor accent filling the space while sweat dripped down his scalp, “fifteen minutes ‘arly. Naught five, naught ten, naught friggin’ faurteen. Fifteen. Any a you chuckle-heads thinks the friggin’ admral is gaunna wait fa ya?”

No one answered as the question was entirely rhetorical. Still, Jonas was not remotely surprised to hear Pulaski whisper behind him, “No, but I guess she’ll wait on you.”

Jonas just kept his eyes straight ahead. He was one of three second class petty officers on the POINDEXTER eligible for taking the first class exam and was still trying to recertify on his Information Warfare pin. It was bad enough that he was a weather specialist in an information technology billet, but now there were only three Chiefs on board to administer his board. He didn’t have room to piss off Graven, especially since Seaman Halsey was watching. Oddly enough, monitoring the crew was the only area that Chief and Halsey seemed to get along.

“…my Grandmatha…” Graven continued, the smacking a monstrous russet knife hand on the workstation in front of him brining Jonas back into the discussion just in time to meet Chief’s eyes while he took a sip of coffee from his Big Gulp mug.

This was a ritual of theirs. Graven would watch for any sign of anyone drifting off or spacing out and the crew would try to time their momentary lapses before he could catch them. They knew Chief would occasionally get a text on his POST from Halsey if he’d missed someone, but they’d also gotten pretty good at finding out how to keep Halsey guessing too. Ng had even tried to take up ventriloquism, but had so far only managed to get a few compromising photographs published on the daily work roster.

“Wait, how did we get onto his Grandmother,” Ng whispered to Jonas’s right.

“I don’t know, I must’ve had a stroke or something,” Pulaski answered, stifled laughter sweeping the workstations behind Jonas.

Chief’s POST vibrated on his belt as Halsey clearly noticed and ratted on him. Graven barely even paused to check the name on the screen before taking another sip of coffee and getting right to business.

“Haulsey tells me ya gaut somethin’ ta say, Pilski,” Chief began, his sharp smile made slightly menacing by the dark bags beneath his bloodshot eyes.

“Nothing Chief,” Pulaski answered, though there was too much laughter in his voice to miss.

“Oohohooo,” Graven cackled, a new bounce in his step, “Does lil’ Timmy Pilski wanna crack jokes in quaatas?”

“Is that even a word, Chief?”

“I’ll get to you in a moment, Neg,” Graven replied, his beady eyes shooting from one sailor to the other.

“Chief, I’m pretty sure that’s racist.”

Half the “formation” broke into raucous laughter while the rest froze like chameleons in a tree, praying Chief would just ignore them.

Graven took a moment to take another sip of coffee, clearly deliberating Ng’s fate while shaking his head and glaring pityingly at his junior sailor.

“Jesus Christ, Neg,” Chief continued with a reluctant laugh, “you aah dumb as dirt. Jonah, when do I get to replace this dink?”

“About two more months, Chief,” Jonas said with a smile, though he begged the two of them to shut up. It was bad enough sticking around for the admiral, but he knew Chief would talk to him about bearing after this and he just didn’t have the time.

 “Gawd help us,” Graven exclaimed with a bemused smile, “Ahright, listen up. Neg, you’re retaaded. Seaman Timmy, when I want yor apinion…”

“Hey, Gary,” one of the techs working the teleconference interrupted, “I think that’s it. The connection should dial up pretty quick.”

“Gary Graven,” Ng whispered, “are you fricking kidding me?”

“Stow it, Neg,” Graven grunted, a digital ring tone coming over the loud speaker.

“Wait, where’s the Captain and LT,” Taylor asked Jonas, though Jonas didn’t answer. He hadn’t seen either of the ships’ officers since his in-call a month ago. As far as he knew, Chief and Halsey had killed them and chucked them overboard.

“Standby, incoming call from U.S. Third Fleet Headquarters; Commander, Third Fleet on the line,” Seaman Halsey announced over the speakers. Simultaneously, everyone’s POSTs began vibrating, the same words emanating from their hips and creating an eerie harmony.

“Standby,” Halsey said again, though this time over the bridge’s loud speaker. “Attention on deck!”

A chorus of boots smacking together accompanied the opening of the bridge’s port hatch and the appearance of Lieutenant Commander Hall, swiftly followed by Lieutenant Shivaza, who promptly took their places at the head of the “formation.” Not a moment later, the feed connected and the enormous figure of Admiral Tyco appeared, greeting them in her usual subdued and robotic way before jumping right to business.

A sickening chill ran down Jonas’s spine as he crossed from the soothing tapioca of the ship’s second deck general spaces to the speckled azure of the restricted section.

The admiral’s speech had been thorough and fact-filled, which is why everyone had nearly fallen asleep. The only real nugget that had everyone stand to was the announcement that they’d be conducting a live fire test of the railgun. More than that, Seaman Halsey would be the one manning the guns.

As expected, the crew of the POINDEXTER maintained their bearing with this unexpected news; that is right up until the teleconference ended and the Captain and Chiefs began barking orders like stockbrokers on Black Friday. Jonas had barely escaped the chaos since he was still technically a meteorologist and had yet to complete his Information Warfare re-certifications.

Up until recently, this fact had caused him innumerable sleepless nights of studying and binge-watching online trainers. Now it meant that he could flee to the confines of the Axis until this particular horror show was over. The only downside was that the Axis was in the blue tile area.

On every other ship in the Navy, blue tile was flag officer country and one of two places where happiness went to die. Jonas wasn’t cleared to work in engineering, so that fortunately limited his levels of the Inferno to just the one. Still, Jonas hated this part of the ship, even if it wasn’t officer country.

The only reason Jonas even dared to cross the blue tiles’ threshold was to talk to Kyle, one of the mid-level contractors working with Halsey to keep the ship up and running. As a former chief electrician and expert on the POINDEXTER’s computer and electrical systems, he’d been approved as acting certifying official for his rates’ new electronics qualifications. Normally, the Navy would raise a stink on having a civilian do the job, but they didn’t have any sailors onboard who were qualified, so it was a moot point.

“General Quarters, General Quarters,” Seaman Halsey’s unwavering tenor rang through the passageway swiftly followed by the high-pitched whine of the combat siren, “all hands man your battle stations.”

Jonas sighed and shook his head.

“Here we go,” he said to himself swiping his security badge through the scanner outside the Auxiliary Quantum-Computing Server room, or “Axis room” as they called it, keying in his security pin, and putting his thumb in the fingerprint scanner.

A moment passed before the keypad flashed green and he heard the slick click of magnetic locks being released.

“Are you ready, man?” Kyle greeted him from behind the catacombs of computer servers as Jonas stepped into the frigid recesses of Axis and re-sealed the hatch.

“Kyle, the only people who get excited about a weapons firing are newbies and SWOs and I…”

Jonas stopped speaking as he began to recognize the music Kyle was playing.

“Daisy, daisy, give me your answer please…” sang a vinyl-rich tune. Suddenly Jonas’s hair began to stand on end as he navigated his way to Kyle’s lonely computer terminal in the back corner of the space.

“Are you seriously playing that right now,” Jonas asked testily, taking a moment to stop and appreciate a collage of kitchen magnets resembling a giant red eye on one of the servers opposite Kyle’s desk.

“Why not,” Kyle asked, brushing some granola bar off his nearly luminescent aloha shirt. “Seems only fitting.”

“It’s creepy.”

“Only if you believe in fate…”

Another chill ran down Jonas’s spine while Kyle began to chuckle.

 “You know you suck, right,” Jonas said, taking a seat in one of the spare fold-out chairs.

“Yeah, I know,” Kyle answered with a knowing smile, “but you have to admit, it’s pretty cool.”

“Sure,” Jonas replied, absentmindedly reading the ship system data on the TV monitors above Kyle’s desk, “One small leap and all that…”

“Man, you have no sense of occasion,” Kyle chided, clapping his hands together and typing furiously on the keyboard, “here we go…”

In moments one of the TV monitors flashed to live footage from the ship’s air defense gun while the second streamed video from an observation drone cueing between the POINDEXTER and a small target drone flying circles in the distance. A few more clicks of the keyboard, and chat windows from the different centers appeared beneath the videos, each either discussing the different aspects of the test or ranting about fantasy football.

Jonas shivered and began rubbing his hands, trying to ignore the faint clouds of steam leaving his nostrils.

“So why can’t we get a space heater in here,” he asked Kyle, who had taken to reviewing the Axis’s processing performance.

“Can’t let the place get too hot,” Kyle answered, completely un-phased by the frigid conditions. “The computer’s entangled pairings need to stay near 4 Kelvin to keep the system working. That and we need to shield them from electromagnetic radiation or the whole system starts to shut down.”

Jonas cast a skeptical glance at the large magnetic mural opposite them.

“Oh, don’t worry about that,” Kyle said with a smile, “the towers are shielded against minor fields like that and we’ve got superconductors shielding the Axis from signatures outside. The Axis is basically impenetrable, in that respect anyway.”

“Huh,” Jonas said, starting to feel a little impressed. 

“Standby for test,” the LT’s voice flashed over the speakers. “Seaman Halsey has assumed fire control.”

Kyle’s eyes lit up immediately as the processing draw on his screens began to spike.

“Target identified and acquired,” Halsey said confidently. The gun’s camera slewed to port and centered on its target, zooming in so that Jonas could even see the propellers rotating from miles away.

“Target is an MQ-8 FIRE SCOUT. Firing solution plotted, capacitors charging.”

“Capacitors charging for a minimum range shot,” said a voice Jonas guessed was one of the contracted engineers working the railgun.

 “Confirmed Captain,” the LT chimed in, “firing solution looks good. No other aerial or surface contacts in the line of fire.”

 “Understood,” the Captain answered, “alright, Halsey, here we go; on my mark…four, three, two, one, fire.”

The ship jolted as the round left the rails, nearly knocking Jonas out of his chair. In an instant, the round tore through the helicopter-shaped drone, shattering the frame beneath the immense force of impact.

“Yeah!” Kyle shouted, raising his fists in triumph before pausing. Moments passed and Jonas was tempted to ask what was wrong, but thought better of it. There was far too much focus and too little patience on Kyle’s pale, computer-lit face for it to be anything but a big problem.

“Wait, wait,” he muttered, peering into the monitors, “where’s the charge? There should’ve been an explosion.”

Kyle snatched up his radio.

“Hey, Kelly, did you see an explosion?”

 “No, no explosion,” the woman said, clearly a little confused, “target’s still pretty dead, though.”

“That’s not what I mean,” Kyle answered, now sounding worried, “I mean from the round. I don’t think the round detonated.”

Seconds passed before the observation drone’s feed began slewing dramatically beyond the wreckage, scanning for anything out of the ordinary.

“There,” Jonas said, spotting a small white plume on the gun’s feed. Kyle scanned the feed and nodded, giving Jonas a thankful thumbs up.

“Hey, Kelly,” Kyle said into the radio, “pan a few more miles down range. We just saw some spray.”

In moments, the drone’s feed caught sight of the spray and what lay at its source.

A massive, dark cloud filled the black and white images of the drone’s feed and Jonas could see the chunks of flotsam scattered around a pool of foam at its center. He couldn’t see anything that looked like pieces of a ship, but that didn’t keep his heart from jumping into his throat. He doubted anything would look like its former self after that.

“What the hell did we hit?” the Captain’s dead-pan voice came over the radio. “I thought we were clear down range, Lieutenant.”

“We were, sir,” the LT replied, “we didn’t see anything.”

“Then what am I looking at? Halsey?”

Another plume erupted in the corner of the observation drone’s feed.  

“We appear to have struck a pod of marine mammals, Captain. Dolphins to be specific,” Halsey replied, a small, light figure appearing at the cloud’s epicenter before dissolving back into the carnal stew.

A palpable silence hung over the radio.

“Dolphins?” The captain repeated incredulously.

 “Dolphins!” Kyle exclaimed, his face growing scarlet with laughter and relief, “Frigging dolphins! Are you kidding?! Oh my god…”

Jonas stayed silent. Killing marine mammals was a big deal, especially in U.S. waters with the admiral coming on board and Seaman Halsey’s penchant for following regulations to the letter. Somebody was going to get hammered over this. Still, he hadn’t been anywhere near the CIC so at least it wasn’t his problem.

The mid-shift bell rang hollowly through the Axis while Jonas absentmindedly tapped his fingers on the desk and tried to figure out a way to get some games on his POST. Things had been pretty dull since Halsey had learned how to make bottle-nose bisque.

Kyle had been called away to deal with problems in the main server node while Chief Graven had ordered Jonas to stay put in the Axis and monitor things under pain of peeling potatoes with Ng down in the galley. Apparently with all of the contractors occupied solving technical glitches, Jonas was the most qualified person left to sit the Axis watch.

Jonas could have been frightened at the idea; mustered some measure of apprehension at the notion of an underpaid meteorologist being placed in charge of a multi-million dollar piece of experimental equipment. There was even the potential for him to be astounded that leadership had ignored his words of warning as to just how bad of an idea this was. Instead, Jonas was hungry.

Dealing with the absurd was just another day in the Navy, but doing it on an empty stomach was just cruel.

 Suddenly, a voice from the intercom rose over the din of humming servers.

“Jonas, oh Jonas…”

Jonas rolled his eyes, spying a freakishly tall tuft of black hair blocking the Axis’s external security camera.

“What do you want, Ng?” Jonas asked testily.

“I have a surprise for you,” Ng replied in a voice Jonas could only liken to a cartoon pedophile.

“Dude, I’m not in the mood.”

“Just open the door, man” Ng said, his voice returning to its usual register.

“Are you even cleared to be in here?”

“Dude, they wouldn’t put me on the ship if I wasn’t. Now open the fricking door.”

Jonas sighed and scratched his head. This was a new ship, so they’d probably vet everybody coming on board.

“I have your din-din,” Ng continued, clearly sensing Jonas’s hesitation.

“Fine,” Jonas capitulated, swallowing his doubts for the chance to silence his growling stomach.

The magnetic locks clicked open and Ng soon emerged from behind the wall of servers, a black backpack in hand and wearing an unnervingly wide smile.

“Heidi ho, neighbor,” he said, slapping the backpack on top of the tower nearest Jonas with a large metallic thunk.

“Dude,” Jonas exclaimed, jumping out of his chair, “careful. You break these towers and we’re all screwed.”

“Why,” Ng asked wryly, “is this where they keep the porn?”

“No, numb nuts, this is where they keep Halsey,” Jonas spat back, gingerly inspecting the tower, “or part of him at least. They’re trying to fix his main server right now. These are all that’re keeping him running.”

Ng stared around at the rows of giant grey towers quizzically then shrugged.

“Oops,” he said, “my bad. So what’s wrong with good ‘ole Optimus?”

“He’s seized up fire control,” Jonas said, rolling his eyes. “Says we can’t trust our rounds and is refusing to fire any ordnance outside of a combat situation. Apparently he thinks that’ll prevent any further incidents. He also says we need to return to port for a hearing on Thursday with the EPA and has scheduled consultations for the Captain and LT with JAG.”

“Seriously? What a drama queen,” Ng said, removing some canned ravioli from his back pack and popping the can open. “Kills Flipper and suddenly has a nervous breakdown? Pansy…”

“Yeah, well…” Jonas paused to watch Ng remove what he could only conclude was Thor’s ping-pong paddle from his backpack, slapping the foil-encased monstrosity on the desk in front of Jonas.

“Ng,” Jonas asked, almost afraid to hear the answer, “what is that?”

“This, good sir,” Ng replied, caressing the electrical-tape wrapped handle and dumping the ravioli into the middle of the paddle’s large circular face, “is the future. Behold Ng’s homemade induction hotplate!”

Before Jonas knew what was happening, Ng whipped the extension cord at the end of the object’s handle with a dramatic flourish and plugged it into the nearest wall outlet. Then, as Jonas’s eyes began to widen, Ng turned what looked like a stove top nob on the handle’s side as far as he could until the child-like handwriting on the nob saying, “Hi,” matched the red arrow of a “Sign Here” sticker attached just above.

In an instant the hotplate and its contents smashed into the red eye of Kyle’s favorite server tower, marinara dripping from the scattered magnets like blood-stained tears. The computer screen next to Jonas went blank as a hideous metallic screeching noise echoed within the server tower accompanied by the sound of metal being strained from the adjacent towers.

“Well that’s not good,” Ng muttered before Jonas began shouting.

“Turn it off you idiot! Are you fuc…”

“Ah, Jonas,” Kyle’s voice came over the radio, which ceased its slow crawl toward the hotplate as soon as Ng unplugged the device, “what’s going on down there? Halsey’s stopped talking to us and we’re reading some pretty big failures in the comms, navigation, engineering, and electrical management systems.”

At that moment the lights of the Axis died and were replaced by the dim fluorescents of the emergency back-ups. The humming of the servers ceased and was replaced by the eerie silence of inactivity. The Axis was dead.

Jonas didn’t dare reply. What could he say? Instead he just stared at the blood dripping from Halsey’s eye, wondering if he’d be charged with sabotage or murder. Then he slowly migrated his gaze to Ng who stood still as the grave, though appeared he to be lamenting the damage done to his weapon of mass destruction. It was then, staring at the all too recalcitrant cooking specialist that the tension in Jonas’s mind snapped like a worn guitar string and he decided that he may as well go down for both crimes.

“You moron,” Jonas screamed, leaping over the desk and slamming the bewildered man into the bulkhead behind him.

“Well,” he raged on, disgustedly smacking the ruined hotplate out of Ng’s hands with a definitive clank when the man refused to meet his eyes, “what should I say, Ng?! Huh?! What exactly should I tell them the problem is here?”

A flash of Ng’s impish smile crossed his lips before disappearing in fear, Jonas grabbing him by his collar and pulling the taller sailor down so that Jonas could look into his limpid brown eyes.

“What, Ng,” Jonas said threateningly, “what was that? Come on…”

The smile cautiously returned to Ng’s lips as he timidly nodded toward Halsey’s bloodied eye.

“Human error,” he said as though it were a question.

Jonas’s mind froze. He wanted to hit him, wanted to stay mad and exact his vengeance, but he couldn’t stop the chuckle from escaping his lips. He couldn’t possibly be this stupid.

“Human error?” Jonas replied incredulously, “Ya think?”

Jeffrey B. Hunter is a fresh face to the literary community, having separated from the US Navy this month after ten years of service as an intelligence officer to pursue his dream of being a fulltime author. While most of his previous creative and writing endeavors are classified, Jeff’s non-fiction piece “Updating the Information Environment” was featured in the August 2015 edition of the Naval Institute’s Proceedings magazine. Jeff lives in Virginia with his wife and daughter, is an avid rock climber and traceur, and is currently working on his first science fiction novel. You can follow Jeff’s progress on his Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/jeffrey.hunter.503092.

Featured Image: Battleship by Gerardo Justel (via Art Station)

Surviving the Fabled Thousand Missile Strike (Part Five)

Surviving the Fabled Thousand Missile Strike

CARN class jpeg

Sketch by Jan Musil. Hand drawn on quarter-inch graph paper. Each square equals twenty by twenty feet.

This article, the fifth of the series, examines how fitting lots of drones, of all types, and large numbers of railguns, aboard a CVLN and either one or two CARNs, can allow the U.S. Navy to confidently ride out the fabled thousand missile strike from the mainland of Eurasia. To do so let’s walk through a possible exercise involving Red, a Eurasian mainland power and Blue, essentially a typical Western Pacific carrier strike group. Read Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four.

Red’s motivation might be ensuring that Blue cannot interfere with, or arrange for reinforcements to reverse, an offshore invasion. An alternative, somewhat more likely though, is that Red is intent on challenging one of Blue’s friends or allies and finds that it cannot achieve its objectives without removing Blue’s powerful naval forces from the area. When threats and warnings do not result in a satisfactory result, Red’s leader authorizes a massive missile strike on Blue’s carrier strike group at sea. This missile strike will be an attempted TOT (time-on-target) strike where all the missiles launched, regardless of distance to the carrier strike group or their speed, i.e. a combination of subsonic and hypersonic missiles, will arrive within a five minute window at the target location. The strike will primarily consist of land-based missiles, but some of Red’s numerous submarines will attempt to participate as well, for the purposes of this exercise it is assumed 29 missiles launched from three different submarines will arrive on target within the five minute TOT time period. Red’s commander has elected to hold his meaningful, though not massive, long-range aircraft striking power in reserve, hovering in a threatening position but not immediately participating. Thus a total of 1,029 missiles are launched.

This exercise assumes that Red can coordinate the command and control challenges involved in such a large undertaking. It also assumes that Red possesses adequate space based surveillance capabilities that real time targeting information down to the nearest kilometer, or better, is available on a timely basis to the relevant land, air and submarine commanders.

It should be emphasized here the importance of the compressed TOT portion of Red’s attack plan. Any incoming missiles, whether land or sub launched will be far easier for Blue to defend against if straggling in before or after the massed attack. This advantage of Blue’s is magnified by the presence of the railguns with their enormous magazine size and the ability to fire every five seconds.

It is assumed that Blue’s carrier strike group consists of:



1 CG (Ticonderoga class)


4 DDG (Arleigh Burke)

4 FF (the new ASW frigate under development)

2 squadrons of F-18s

6 EA-18G Growlers

1 squadron of F35s

1 squadron of strike drones

15+ ISR drones

4 E-2D Hawkeyes

2 S-3 Vikings

6 refueling drones

15+ Fire Scouts

10+ Seahawks

75+ buoys with UUVs or a dipping sonar installed and a radar/infrared lure

Blue’s carrier strike group commander has taken full advantage of the ASW capabilities provided by all the Fire Scouts and buoys, spreading the strike group out over a thirty mile radius in a preplanned dispersal strategy. The commander has also been successful at maneuvering the strike group into a position where there are no Red submarines within at least 30 miles, and it is believed (or hoped) by Blue’s commander that the strike group is at least 50 miles from the nearest Red submarine.

Blue also possesses space based surveillance capabilities and is able to provide Blue’s carrier strike group a twenty minute warning of the incoming attack. Blue’s commander selects one of his preplanned spatial deployment plans, concentrating the majority of his surface assets in a compact zone with the CARN taking position and turning its broadside closest to the incoming missile strike, three of the four DDGs some distance behind it, then the CG and two of the frigates, then the CVLN and finally the CVN. One frigate is so far off on the periphery on ASW duty that it will fire chaff rounds repeatedly during the attack and hope the handful of aircraft overhead and many radar lures dropped in its vicinity will allow it to emerge unscathed. On the opposite side of the strike group one DDG and the fourth frigate will do the same, though with the added protection of the DDGs AAW missiles.

This dispersion plan means a large portion of the area where the strike group is located is simply empty ocean. The intent is to use the strike groups EEW and radar lures to effect and make thorough use of the fact that even a subsonic missile cannot maneuver quickly enough to search out targets if presented with enough empty ocean upon their initial arrival at the selected target location.

Blue’s commander has also chosen a specific plan for utilizing his air assets in a layered defense, intent on maximizing the effectiveness of the various weapon systems embarked. Let us follow the resolution of the attack, starting with the outermost layer, and work our way inwards as the strike progresses.

Cap Layer

2 E-2D Hawkeyes and 12 F-18 Super Hornets

Blue’s strike group commander has assigned these air assets to anti-aircraft duty, approximately 250 miles from the strike group’s location. Since Red’s long-range bombers are known to be airborne, but apparently are not immediately participating, the decision is taken for these Super Hornets to hold their fire, confident that the rest of the strike group can deal with the incoming missiles, and continue to guard against any enemy aircraft that might intrude later.

Shot Down/Eliminated/Missed/Decoyed This Layer: Zero

SD/E/M/D Cumulative: Zero           Of 1,029 incoming missiles

ISR Drones Layer

8 ISR Drones

These eight drones are individually scattered in an arc 150 miles out from the strike group’s location. They are there to provide accurate targeting information, primarily for the SM-2 and railgun equipped surface ships of the strike group. In particular the presence of this arc ensures timely targeting information so the railguns can effectively engage at their maximum range of 65 miles.

SD/E/M/D This Layer: Zero 

SD/E/M/D Cumulative: Zero           Of 1,029 incoming missiles

Railgun Layer

13 railguns (12 on the CARN and 1 on the CVLN)

With the targeting information provided initially by the ISR drones and later by the various aircraft and AAW radars of the strike group the railguns will steadily engage at their maximum rate of every five seconds. Since it is unlikely that any particular missile, even subsonic ones, will not close the remaining 65 miles to the strike group before a second shot can be taken this exercise assumes each railgun will only fire once at any given missile.

Each railgun can fire every seconds, 60 seconds/5 = 12 shots a minute. Therefore over a five minute time period each railgun will get off 5 x 12 = 60 carefully aimed shots. 13 railguns x 60 equals 780 opportunities to hit an incoming missile.

This exercise will assume a 50% success rate for the railguns. Therefore 390 incoming missiles are eliminated.

SD/E/M/D This Layer: 390  

SD/E/M/D Cumulative: 390           Of 1,029 incoming missiles

SM Family Missile Layer

420 surface ship launched SM-2 missiles and 2 E-2D Hawkeyes operating approximately fifty miles out from the strike group’s location.

The CG (100) and four DDGs (80 each) in the strike group are assumed to have 420 SM-2 missiles available to fire in their collective VLS cells.

This exercise will assume a 70% success rate for the missiles. Higher success rates can easily be argued for, though there will be some unavoidable overlap with the railguns resulting in double targeting by some missiles. 420 x .70 = 294. Therefore 294 incoming missiles are eliminated.

SD/E/M/D This Layer: 294  

SD/E/M/D Cumulative: 684           Of 1,029 incoming missiles

Air Wing Layer

12 F-35s, 12 Strike Drones, 12 F-18 Super Hornets, 6 EA18-G Growlers, and 2 S-3 Vikings carrying 4 air-to-air missiles each = 176 AAW missiles

Blue’s air commander has elected to concentrate the bulk of his air assets close to the strike group. This allows the air commander to attempt to concentrate this groups AAW missiles in defense of the three zones occupied by the surface ships below. This allows more of the incoming missiles that have survived to this point but appear to be targeted on empty ocean to be ignored.

This exercise will assume a 70% success rate for the AAW missiles. Again, higher success rates can easily be argued for, though given the tight time constraints on pilots decision making some double targeting will be unavoidable. 176 x .70 = 123.2 rounded down to 123. Therefore 123 incoming missiles are eliminated.

SD/E/M/D This Layer: 123   

SD/E/M/D Cumulative: 807           Of 1,029 incoming missiles

Eliminated Due to Malfunction Layer

If everything always worked perfectly the world would be a much happier place. But things inevitably go awry and the incoming missiles are not immune to this problem. This exercise assumes a standard 5% malfunction rate. 1,029 x .05 = 51.45, rounded down to 51.

SD/E/M/D This Layer: 51     

SD/E/M/D Cumulative: 858           Of 1,029 incoming missiles

Missed Due to Dispersal Layer

The high rate of speed of the incoming missiles will sharply limit their ability to effectively search for a target if they happen to encounter one of the areas of empty ocean Blue’s commander has contrived. This exercise assumes, rather arbitrarily, a 5% missed rate, but empty ocean will certainly greet some of Red’s missiles. 1,029 x .05 = 51.45, rounded down to 51.

SD/E/M/D This Layer: 51     

SD/E/M/D Cumulative: 909           Of 1,029 incoming missiles

Decoyed Layer

The strike groups EEW capabilities, including the Growlers, all the strike group helicopters, Fire Scouts and over 75 buoys with various types of lures aboard can be utilized to great effect. This exercise assumes, rather arbitrarily, a 5% decoyed rate. It is tempting to select a higher rate, but to be conservative the 5% rate is used. 1,029 x .05 = 51.45, rounded down to 51.

SD/E/M/D This Layer: 51     

SD/E/M/D Cumulative: 960           Of 1,029 incoming missiles

Internal Rolling-In-Frame Layer

The CARN has six rolling-in-frame close defense missile launchers installed on each side of the ship. As Red’s surviving missiles reach the LOS horizon, these missiles engage those missiles targeted on the primary layered group of surface ships, which includes the crucial CVN.

This exercise will assume a 70% success rate for these missiles. 48 x .7 = 33.6, rounded down to 33. Therefore 33 incoming missiles are eliminated.

SD/E/M/D This Layer: 33    

SD/E/M/D Cumulative: 993           Of 1,029 incoming missiles

Last Ditch Layer

At this point the last 36 missiles of the original 1,029 are assumed to acquire surface targets and close on them. At this point the targeted ships individual CIW and close range missile defense provide a last ditch defense layer.

To be consistent, this exercise will assume a 70% success rate for the CIW and close range defense missiles. 29 x .7 = 20.3, rounded down to 20. Therefore 20 incoming missiles are eliminated.

SD/E/M/D This Layer: 20    

SD/E/M/D Cumulative: 1,013           Of 1,029 incoming missiles

The hits the remaining 26 missiles inflict will do varying amounts of damage, with the highest variability being the size of the target. One hit can easily destroy one of the ASW frigates. Depending on where the hit occurs, damage to a DDG or the CG will merely damage some portion of its functionality but the combination of the damage and the resulting fires could easily incapacitate the ships fighting ability for quite some time. A hit or two on the CARN with its extensive armor are likely to incapacitate some of its weapon systems but not seriously impair the ships ability to fight. Obviously the more hits, the greater the collective damage. The CVLN and CVN, hopefully spared the worst by their placement at the far back of the layered spatial deployment chosen by Blue’s strike group commander, should be able to continue to function at close to normal capabilities, with the obvious proviso that any fires started do not prove difficult to bring under control.

So at the conclusion of the first round of the exercise, Red has achieved some significant, but not decisive damage with its massive 1,000 missile strike. So what does the Red Commander do next? If that is the sum of his assets, committing his modest long-range aircraft to anything other than continued harassing missions does not seem prudent. Blue’s obstructing carrier strike group has more or less survived and Red must now consider alternative means of achieving its objectives.

Unless Red, assumed to be a major East Asian land power, has utilized its substantial economic capability to construct a second wave of long-range missiles.

Red Force Commander

If so, then Red force commander, after a rapid but thorough review of the results of the first strike provided by his space-based reconnaissance assets decides to proceed with a pre-planned second strike. This time all of his available air assets will participate in the attack and Red Force commander does his best to coordinate another five minute time-on-target attack by hundreds of land based missiles and orders a much larger number of submarines to participate. Hopefully many of them will be able to evade Blue Forces SSNs and contribute at least some missiles from a multitude of different directions.

The intent here is to take advantage of the fact Blue Force will not have time to reload his ship borne missile tubes and in the intervening 30 minutes to an hour, only a few aircraft will have time to re-arm with AAW missiles. This will leave only the magazines of the railgun equipped ships with a significant amount of ammunition available for use.


At this point we will take leave of the exercise for with the results so far we are capable of making several conclusions.

1- Adding the various types of drones now available as well as the railgun, IN QUANTITY, to the fleet combined with appropriate doctrine adjustments, and flexible and carefully thought through battle plans means the fabled 1,000 missile strike can be survived by a typical carrier strike group.

2- This is particularly true of what most non-East Asian powers across the Eurasian landmass are likely to be able to field over the next few decades.

3- Adding a second CARN to the Western Pacific carrier strike group might well be a wise additional investment.

4- Several of the layers discussed above were deliberately provided with conservative success rates. The railgun itself may very well be able to operate, even at 65 miles, at much higher success rates. The ability to utilize our EEW and decoying assets could also provide significantly better results than estimated, as could the effects of dispersal.

5- Installing one or two railguns aboard the new CVNs as they are built looks to be an excellent idea. Consideration should also be given to installing one or two during refits, or during the refueling process, of our existing carrier assets.

In the next article we will discuss just why Congress and the American taxpayers should pay for all these additional UAVs, UUVs, Fire Scouts, buoys, railguns and the necessary ships to deploy them at sea.                                                                           

Jan Musil is a Vietnam era Navy veteran, disenchanted ex-corporate middle manager and long time entrepreneur currently working as an author of science fiction novels. He is also a long-standing student of navies in general, post-1930 ship construction thinking, design hopes versus actual results and fleet composition debates of the twentieth century.

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Is There a Class of Armored Cruisers in the U.S. Navy’s Future? (Part Four)

Is There a Class of Armored Cruisers in the U.S. Navy’s Future?


CARN class jpeg

Sketch by Jan Musil. Hand drawn on quarter-inch graph paper. Each square equals twenty by twenty feet.

This article, the fourth of the series, presents a suggestion on how to incorporate the new railgun technology into the fleet in an efficient and effective manner. Railguns, when used as a complement to the various UAVs, UUVs and Fire Scouts discussed earlier will provide the fleet with a potent AAW weapon. Read Part One, Part Two, Part Three.

Interestingly enough, the most important piece of information concerning the new railgun is a number. A single round of ammunition costs $10,000. Eighteen inches of railroad tie shaped steel (which costs less than $200) fitted with the wonders of modern microelectronics provides a startling contrast with the $1M+ cost of the missiles the Navy currently uses against incoming aircraft and missiles. A contrast that is even more in the Navy’s favor since any future opponent will be spending comparable sums for their attack missiles and substantially more for hypersonic cruise missiles.

There are no explosives purchased with the $10,000. This means hundreds of rounds of railroad ties and microelectronics can be safely stored in a ship’s magazine. This is a substantial advantage compared to the VLS missiles in current use by navies around the globe, most of which require specialized loading facilities to reload their missile tubes. In contrast, a railgun-equipped ship can take a much larger ammunition load to sea with it, and reload the magazine at sea if necessary.

The next relevant parameter of the new railgun is its range. At 65 miles this is far less than many long-range missiles, though still quite useful against incoming aircraft and missiles. Note that with an ISR drone or Hawkeye providing over-the-horizon targeting information, a surface ship equipped with a railgun can shoot down incoming aircraft such as the Russian Bear (Tu-95) reconnaissance aircraft before the intruder can lock in on the firing ship. The same is true for any attacking aircraft carrying long-range strike missiles.

This highlights the importance to both sides of providing accurate targeting information first. It also means, strategically, at its heart the railgun in the 21st century maritime environment is a defensive weapon: well positioned to provide defensive fire against incoming attacks, but with an offensive punch limited to sixty-five miles.

That said, with the ability to fire every five seconds the railgun can be very effective, particularly when utilized in quantity when escorting carrier strike groups or when placed between a hostile shore and an ARG.

So far we have noted the positive distinguishing capabilities of the railgun but there are three significant difficulties that come with fielding the weapon. Foremost is the enormous amount of electrical power discharged by the gun when firing. This means any ship equipped with a railgun needs substantial electric power generating capabilities, something certainly beyond the abilities of the DDGs and CCGs currently in the fleet.

Secondly, using these vast amounts of electricity means a large capacitor needs to be located on the deck below the railgun. Large does mean large in this application. No little white pieces of ceramic plugged into a circuit board will do here. The necessary equipment is physically massive and in need of protection from the elements. They will be taking up a substantial amount of space just below the main deck where the railgun has to be mounted, probably one per gun.

The third problem is that all the energy dissipated in launching a round generates heat. Lots and lots of it. Most, but not all, of the energy used to launch the eighteen inches of steel will be recovered back into the ships capacitor, but enough will be lost that the launching rails flexing as the railgun is fired simply must be exposed to the elements so the heat will dissipate in the air. No sailors or flammables nearby please.

The inevitable follow up conclusion means a railgun equipped ship is going to be impossible to hide from opponent’s infrared sensors. Regardless of how stealthy versus radar the ship is, all of that heat is going to stand out like the sun itself to incoming aircraft and missiles equipped with infrared targeting systems, which means it is almost a certainty the firing ship is going to get hit if subjected to a seriously prosecuted attack.


This ship is not going to be able to hide in a cloud of chaff, it will be heading into the incoming missile strike, placing its full broadside in a position to fire and it will be considered a high priority target.

Unlike almost all naval ships built across the globe since the end of WW2, this class needs to be built with the assumption that incoming missiles will hit it, the plural is intentional, and be able to survive the multiple collections of missile slag and burning fuel and the occasional warhead detonation. Just as we built the 44 gun class of frigates back in the 1780s to be thick hulled in order to survive the gunnery practices of the time, armored up the ironclads of the Civil War and multiple classes of ships intended for the main battle line of the last half of the 19th Century and first half of the 20th Century, we need to built this class to ‘take a licking and keep on ticking’.

Topside armor should cover most of the ship, but the prime purpose of this armor will be to shed missile slag, i.e. what is left of the incoming missile after being intercepted and its fuel. The impact of the metal missile parts is not the prime danger to be protected against here. It is the fuel, and the accompanying fires after impact that is the true danger. So the topside armor needs to keep the slag and fuel on the outside of the ship, hopefully allowing gravity to carry much of the burning fuel to the gunnels and overboard; in the process vastly easing the firefighting teams job in putting out any fires that have started.

Additional armor, probably using a combination of layered materials and empty space, is appropriate for selected topside compartments that need to be protected against a successful missile warhead detonation. Whether it is sailors or equipment that is being protected, only some compartments will need beefed up exterior armor.

After that the CARN (cruiser gun armor, nuclear powered) will need to adapt the principles of the ‘armored citadel’ concepts developed a century ago for battleships to the needs of securing the two, possibly three, nuclear reactors aboard and their associated pumps and other equipment. Whether this is best done with one internal armor layer or two will keep the engineers debating for quite a while as the CARN is designed.

CARN Equipment

So what should the new 25k+ ton armored cruiser have aboard? Nuclear propulsion is an unavoidable necessity given the enormous amounts of power each railgun requires; every five seconds when engaged. Since the primary use of the CARN will be to accompany the fleet’s carriers to provide defensive AAW capabilities, this is actually an advantage for both strategic and tactical reasons. Depending on the amount of power twelve railguns firing broadsides will require, two or three of the standardized nuclear plants being installed in the new carriers should work just fine.

Lots of armor and nuclear power are unavoidable. The following basic list of desired equipment should provide the reader with a good idea of what the CARN should go to sea with.

12 railguns mounted in six dual mounts. In the attached sketch A and B mounts are placed forward of the bridge while C, D, E and F mounts are located starting roughly amidships and extend back to the helicopter deck. Dual mounts are suggested since the large size of the capacitors that need to be located directly below each railgun will in practice utilize the full 120 feet of beam provided. Obviously if the capacitors are even larger than this, then single mounts will have to be employed. Let’s hope not as doubling up makes for a much more efficient ship class.

36 VLS tubes capable of a varying load out of ASW, SM-2, SM-6 and long-range strike missiles as the mission at hand calls for.

4 CIWS with one located in the bow, a pair port and starboard amidships and one aft, just behind F mount.

12 rolling missile launchers for close in defense. It will be no secret the CARN is in the task force so a substantial number of the incoming missiles will be using infrared targeting, either in place of, or as a supplement to radar. So adding half dozen rolling missile packs to port and another half a dozen to starboard will provide plenty of localized missile defenses for both the CARN and the task force as whole.

2 ISR drones if VTOL capable. None if VTOL capability is not available

2 Seahawk helicopters

This suggested list very deliberately reduces the VLS and ASW capabilities aboard to a bare minimum. Good ship design concentrates on the primary mission the class needs to accomplish. In the case of the CARN that is absolutely, positively AAW.

In the next article we will examine how adding UAVs, UUVs, Fire Scouts, buoys and railguns in quantity to the fleet can substantially enhance the Navy’s ability to survive in the increasingly hostile A2AD world of the 21st Century. Read Part Five here.

Jan Musil is a Vietnam era Navy veteran, disenchanted ex-corporate middle manager and long time entrepreneur currently working as an author of science fiction novels. He is also a long-standing student of navies in general, post-1930 ship construction thinking, design hopes versus actual results and fleet composition debates of the twentieth century.

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